Monday, July 27, 2009

The Dog - Child Connection: Are You Kidding Me?

Did I read this right? Does this article say: "Train Your Child Like You Train Your Dog"?

I subscribe to a Google news feed on blended families, and I swear to God, this is what came into my inbox today. Train your child like you train a dog. The article was taken from the topic of Emily Bouchard's newsletter StepHeroes Community Newsletter. I know this article is just a symptom of very, very bad writing, but it's actually so much more problematic.

If you look at the article closely -- sans title -- you see some insanely broad advice. "Use life rewards." "Smile and be positive." "Make yourself irresistible." In theory, this sounds great. But what about a kid who doesn't want to visit Daddy's house? What about a kid who feels homesick or scared? What about a resentful stepparent who isn't in the mood to deal with an angry kid?

In all fairness, I think the website that wrote about Emily Bouchard's newsletter did a disservice to her. If you look at her site, she's got quite a bit of knowledge on stepfamilies. Her idea was to state that "techniques" you use to train a dog can be used in handling your children/stepchildren. Yet these canned snippets, this kind of pop-psychology advice is never good for anyone because it has nothing to do with the emotional complexities of living.

In real life, it's not easy for my kid when he comes home from his dad's. We have similar rules, but they're varying. As my mother reminds me, "You can never really control what goes on at his father's house." Maybe he's got more patience. Maybe he's got less rules. Maybe they're the same rules but we execute them differently. Maybe Jake is just different with each of us. Maybe he acts out more when he gets back from a weekend, or a night. Maybe it's just something Andy and I have to sort of deal with.

Emily Bouchard, I have some new "rules" for you: Respect the children. Give them boundaries. Make them feel at home. And if they push you away, make them feel at home some more. Give them space. Then, give them their own space. Give consequences for rules broken, but make sure not to enforce rules like a drill sergeant. Talk about feelings as a family. Talk about feelings some more.

And please, don't treat your child like a dog.

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